Serzh Sargsyan is President of Armenia, a country with a turbulent history, like a fair number of states which for a time were a part of the old USSR. Early in March on an official visit to Paris, the president spoke with Euronews about the Armenian genocide, relations between his country and Turkey, and on the frozen conflict of Nagorno Karabakh. Armenia is gripped in the geopolitical vice of the South Caucasus region, where Europe meets Asia.
Its border with Turkey has been blocked since the Nagorno Karabakh war. The consequences of this for all involved are serious, including for Armenia’s population of three million and the seven million Armenian diaspora.
Laura Davidescu, Euronews: President Sargsyan, with 23 votes in favour of the resolution and 22 against, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States’ House of Representatives has decided to declare that the 1915 massacre of over one million Armenians by the Ottoman Turks was genocide. Why do you think the committee has voted the resolution now?
President Serzh Sargsyan: Discussions on the recognition of the Armenian genocide are not new in the political life of the United States of America.
Several times at least in the past 10 years, the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives has tried to vote on the resolution.
Forty-two states in the US have recognized the events as genocide, so the resolution on the 4th of March is neither a surprise nor a new thing for us.
Euronews: Do you think of any particular reason for them voting it now, in this particular context of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation?
Sargsyan: We are currently in discussions with Turkey on the issue of re-establishing our relations. This should be done without any preconditions, and I think that Turkey has no moral right to blame us about anything or to impose any conditions. Re-establishing relations without preconditions means we are not under any obligations to stay away from any of the possible topics.
Let’s say that, by some miracle, the Turkish Parliament ratifies the protocols, the Armenian Parliament does the same, we re-establish our relations and a third country, which is against us re-establishing our relations, on purpose takes up the genocide issue. Will the Turks, therefore, use this as a pretext and break off relations?
Euronews: If Armenia’s major problems now are unemployment, economic isolation and long- running disputes with Turkey and Azerbaijan, can these problems be more easily solved now?
Sargsyan: Our difficulties with Turkey did not begin yesterday. For 17 years, Turkey has kept the Armenian border under blockade. Was there such a resolution 17 years ago? We fully understand that Turkey is a big country — in terms of population, territory and power… vastly bigger than Armenia. And if we lived apart from each other we would [also] understand. But since Armenia and Turkey are part of the international community, and the United States, France and the European Union are too, then the international community must assess the developments and situations as they unfold.
Euronews: I would go back to the recognition of the Armenian genocide: If this issue is of paramount concern for Armenians both at home and in the Diaspora, could you please tell us why the Yerevan State University awarded an honorary degree to the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2007? The Iranian president denies the Holocaust.
Sargsyan: You know, we cannot oblige our neighbours to think as we do. One should not narrow things down to a single person. To bestow upon the leader of a country an honorific reward signifies an expression of gratitude and recognition towards the people of that country. The Iranians have been our neighbours for centuries and they are very important to us.
Euronews: Would you call the Yerevan state university’s decision Armenian “realpolitik”?
Sargsyan: I would consider it as a particular approach by the State University of Yerevan towards a particular issue, an approach quite current in Europe and in the democratically developed countries of the world.
Euronews: You are quoted as having said in London, in February, that Nagorno Karabakh was never a part of independent Azerbaijan. Well, the international community seems to have another opinion, another assessment.
Sargsyan: The international community does not have a different vision. History is well-known… Nagorno Karabakh was not a part of independent Azerbaijan. It was the Caucasus Bureau of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union which attached Nagorno Karabakh to Azerbaijan.
Why did the international community acclaim the collapse of the Soviet Union and not consider Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan part and parcel of the Soviet Union? — still saying Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaidjan? It is not logical, is it?
Euronews: What kind of compromises are you willing to make in order to achieve a peaceful resolution of this conflict?
Sargsyan: One cannot eliminate the consequences of this conflict without addressing its causes. And when speaking about the causes… we talk about recognising the people of Nagorno Karabakh’s right of self determination… the recognition of this right and its implementation. The other problems will be solved rapidly after that.
The Armenian parts of this conflict, Armenia and Nagorno Karabakh, are profoundly interested in a swift resolution of this conflict. But a sustainable resolution that would allow for peace and security in the region, as opposed to giving Azerbaijan Nagorno Karabakh, which would spell the end of its existence.
Euronews: Azerbaijan states very clearly that it will never ever accept Nagorno Karabakh as an independent entity. They will never let it go.
Sargsyan: What does the international community propose to us? To solve this conflict on the basis of three principles of international law: firstly, self-determination; secondly, territorial integrity; and thirdly, the non-use of force. I propose, through you, the media, to appeal to Azerbaijan to sign an agreement not to use force. This would instill trust in the Armenian people of Karabakh and Armenia. And under these conditions of trust we would begin the negotiations for a settlement. We Armenians know very well what Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity means. We’ve talked about it openly several times. The Azerbaijanis… can they say what the right of self-determination means for the people of Nagorno Karabakh?
When we issue joint declarations about the right of self-determination, Azerbaijan is not talking about the Armenian people’s right to self-determination but of the right of the main player in the conflict… the people of Nagorno Karabakh.